King, Laurie R. 1952- (Leigh Richards)

views updated

King, Laurie R. 1952- (Leigh Richards)


Born September 19, 1952, in Oakland, CA; daughter of Roger R. (a furniture restorer) and Mary (a retired librarian and curator) Richardson; married Noel Q. King (a professor), 1977; children: Nathanael, Zoe. Education: University of California, Santa Cruz, B.A., 1977; Graduate Theological Union, M.A., 1984. Religion: Episcopal. Hobbies and other interests: Swimming, gardening, travel.


Home—Freedom, CA. Agent—Linda Allen, Linda Allen Literary Agency, 1949 Green St., Ste. 5, San Francisco, CA 94123.


Writer, 1993—. Worked as a manager of Kaldi's (now Los Gatos Coffee Roasters), at various volunteer posts in the Pajaro United School District, and as a counselor for La Leche League International.


International Association of Crime Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers Association (England).


Edgar Allan Poe Award, Mystery Writers of America, 1994, and John Creasey Dagger, 1995, both for A Grave Talent; Agatha Award nomination, 1994, and best book citation, American Library Association, 1996, both for The Beekeeper's Apprentice; Nero Wolfe Award, 1995, for A Monstrous Regiment of Women; Edgar Allan Poe Award nominations, 1996, for With Child and for "Paleta Man;" Gail Rich Award, 1998; Macavity Award, 2002, for Folly; honorary doctorate from Church Divinity School of the Pacific; Artist of the Year, Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation, 2006.



A Grave Talent, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.

To Play the Fool, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.

With Child, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Night Work, Bantam (New York, NY), 2000.

The Art of Detection, Bantam (New York, NY), 2006.


The Beekeeper's Apprentice; or, On the Segregation of the Queen, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.

A Monstrous Regiment of Women, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.

A Letter of Mary, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.

The Moor, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

O Jerusalem, Bantam (New York, NY), 1999.

Justice Hall, Bantam (New York, NY), 2002.

The Game, Bantam (New York, NY), 2004.

Locked Rooms, Bantam (New York, NY), 2005.


A Darker Place (suspense novel), Bantam (New York, NY), 1999, published as Birth of a New Moon (London, England), 1999.

Folly (suspense novel), Bantam (New York, NY), 2001.

Keeping Watch (suspense novel), Bantam (New York, NY), 2003.

(Under pseudonym Leigh Richards) Califia's Daughter (science fiction novel), Spectra (New York, NY), 2004.

Also author of Laurie R. King Web log, located at


Locked Rooms was adapted as an audiobook, Bantam (New York, NY), 2005.


Laurie R. King's unconventional approach to the mystery genre has led to the development of two popular series characters: Mary Russell, the detective wife of Sherlock Holmes, and Kate Martinelli, a San Francisco policewoman. Through a number of books featuring each protagonist, King has formed their characters—and those of their cohorts—while consistently crafting tense thrillers, many with religious themes. The author began her career auspiciously, when her first published book, A Grave Talent, won both the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the John Creasey Dagger. Since then, she has produced a significant body of "thoughtful, intelligent, innovative, imaginative mysteries," stated reviewer Emily Melton in Booklist.

"I began writing in 1987 at the age of thirty-five when my younger child started preschool, freeing up three entire mornings every week," King commented in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers. King earned an advanced degree in religious studies, but when she began to write she concentrated on fiction, drawing on her specialized knowledge and her experience as a world traveler. Her first completed novel was The Beekeeper's Apprentice; or, On the Segregation of the Queen, but due to its use of Sherlock Holmes as a character, certain copyright issues had to be resolved before it could be published. In the meantime, her first "Martinelli" book, A Grave Talent, was released, earning warm reviews and major awards.

King's two protagonists, Russell and Martinelli, could not be more different in time or place. Kate Martinelli is a modern-day inspector with the San Francisco Police Department, while Mary Russell is a teenage girl coming of age in England during World War I. Both characters are keen detectives, relying on intellect and courage to solve crimes. With the creation of Mary Russell, King was "confronted with furious resistance from Sherlockian purists," noted interviewer Mia Stampe. However, in the opinion of a reviewer, this first book in the "Mary Russell" series "captures the spirit of the Holmes adventures with a great deal of love, while allowing room for female fans to more easily project themselves into the story." In her first outing, Russell meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, whom she matches "wit for wit and soon becomes his willing and eager apprentice," according to St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers writer Susan Oleksiw in an essay on King's work. The Beekeeper's Apprentice finds Sherlock coming out of retirement to help Russell solve the case of the kidnapping of a U.S. senator's daughter. Booklist critic Emily Melton found the novel "funny, heartwarming and full of intrigue." Purist resistance notwithstanding, Pat Dowell stated in the Washington Post Book World that King "has relieved Holmes of the worst effects of his misogyny and, by so doing, salved the old hurt that comes to every female reader of literature, usually at a very young age, when she realizes with great disappointment that she is excluded from the circle of presumed readers and fellow adventurers: that sinking feeling that ‘They didn't mean me.’"

The second "Mary Russell" mystery, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, takes the Holmes-Russell relationship a step forward, with the aging master sleuth "indeed [losing] his heart" to the plucky young woman, as Marilyn Stasio commented in a New York Times review. "He also flings aside his idiosyncratic genius and his proud, disdainful ways to mince along in the shadow of his protege—even to the point of drawing her bath and preparing her meals. It is not a pretty sight." Dick Adler in the Chicago Tribune Books deemed the second installment "as audacious as it is entertaining and moving," adding that King's research, "here and elsewhere is both prodigious and seamless: Fact and fiction blend smoothly." After establishing the character of a retired Holmes, King sets her third Holmes-Russell novel, A Letter of Mary, in the year 1923. By now Russell is a full-fledged detective, investigating the suspicious death of an archaeologist in possession of a history-making discovery. What caught the attention of a Publishers Weekly reviewer was the interplay between the two main characters who, though generations apart, "share intellectual camaraderie, companionable humor and sexual attraction."

In subsequent novels, such as Justice Hall, though Holmes remains, it is Russell who takes the lead. By the 1920s Russell and Holmes are married and partners in detection. The tile of the story is derived from Justice Hall, a manor house and ancestral home to the brothers Ali and Mahmoud (from O Jerusalem), who turn out to be Englishmen rather than Arabs. Mahmoud cannot inherit the family property, however, without Russell's help solving a mystery surrounding the execution of a British soldier during World War I. A critic in Publishers Weekly wrote that, in Justice Hall, "King comes close to matching the fine intelligence and wit that informed Doyle's original adventures." In The Game, the detective duo goes to India on a mission from Holmes's supposedly smarter brother Mycroft. With Holmes decidedly in the background now, "the game may be afoot, but the pace is mostly funereal," observed a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Yet School Library Journal writer Susan H. Woodcock called this seventh Mary Russell novel "one of the best in the series."

Holmes reemerges as the principle player in Locked Rooms. After the couple visit Russell's hometown of San Francisco, she is assailed by mysterious, frightening dreams of the past, specifically the earthquake of 1906, which occurred when she was a child. When Russell's life seems to be in danger, her husband leaps to her defense by taking charge of the investigation. Writing in the Library Journal, Laurel M. Bliss cited Locked Rooms as "worthy of the highest recommendation."

King's other series detective, Kate Martinelli, stars in several mysteries that Melton noted are "not as popular as her ‘Mary Russell’ novels, but … a solid choice for those who like tough female cops." As she did with Russell, the author develops Martinelli emotionally and professionally throughout the series, paying special attention to Martinelli's sexual orientation and the challenges it presents in her career. The reader gets to know Martinelli, from her beginnings as the wary partner to a male detective, to her emergence as a "confident, dynamic gay woman," according to Oleksiw. Adler, reviewing With Child in the Chicago Tribune Books, described the character as "the kind of person you'd like to know and talk with over many lunches, a smart and tough woman confident in her lesbian sexuality."

In With Child, King has the Bay Area officer traveling to the Pacific Northwest to track a killer. While readers may beat Martinelli to the conclusion, noted a Publishers Weekly critic, "the pleasure of her company and the accelerating suspense preceding the climax make for a compelling read." As for how a married, straight woman came to write about a lesbian police officer, King says with a laugh that "‘the effrontery of it sometimes takes me aback!,’" as she was quoted in a Publishers Weekly review.

In Night Work, the series' fourth novel, Martinelli investigates the vigilante murders of abusive men. Two topics close to King's heart, feminism and religion, figure prominently, and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that King's use of the esoteric to form her narrative makes Night Watch "a highly unusual—and memorable—novel … compelling, effective." As the plot unfolds, the author also focuses on Martinelli's efforts to rebuild her severely damaged relationship with life-partner Lee while remaining committed to her work. This tension between her personal and work lives increases dramatically when evidence suggests that a friend of hers may be responsible for the vigilante murders. In her Library Journal review of the book, Nancy McNicol reported, "King once again gives the reader a superbly structured plot played off a set of intellectually stimulating characters…. Fans of the three previous Martinelli books will be gratified."

King combines elements from her ‘Mary Russell’ and ‘Kate Martinelli’ series in The Art of Detection, "an intelligent, satisfying novel of suspense," observed a critic in Publishers Weekly. Martinelli must find the killer of Philip Gilbert, an obsessive Sherlock Holmes devotee whose body is discovered in Battery DuMaurier, a military installation. During her investigation, Martinelli finds an unpublished story, owned by Gilbert and purportedly written by Arthur Conan Doyle, describing a 1924 murder case in which the corpse was also disposed of at Battery DuMaurier. "The juxtaposition of modern police work and Holmes's investigative style adds a nice touch," observed Carol Reich in Kliatt. Writing in Booklist, GraceAnne A. DeCandido praised the novel, citing "the opportunity to explore every facet of Holmes fandom, from the sublime and scholarly to the deliriously ridiculous."

Comparing the characters of Russell and Martinelli, Oleksiw remarked that while the historical figure "represents a struggle women believe they have long since won—the right of women to exert influence and act—Kate Martinelli embodies the restrictions that remain, the more subtle ones that prevent women from claiming an authentic identity within the supposedly broader bounds of contemporary society and living according to that identity." Both series offer King opportunities to explore feminist issues in subtle and broader ways. Whether it is a discovery of the role Mary Magdalen played in Jesus Christ's ministry in A Letter of Mary or the murderous impulses of extremist feminists in Night Work, King remains engaged with the place of women in society both past and present.

The use of series characters enables the author to explore how character shapes destiny over time. "As a writer I like the structure of a mystery," King commented in Authors and Artists for Young Adults. "It gives me the skeletal structure upon which to hang story or plot, something to keep me going forward in narrative, to allow the people in the book to move around and develop while the plot unfolds. Mysteries also are often series, and you have the opportunity to get to know characters over a length of time. You can develop them and really get to know them in a series."

King's stand-alone mysteries include A Darker Place and Folly. In A Darker Place, FBI agent Anne Waverley infiltrates a mysterious cult, placing herself and other members in jeopardy as she seeks to discover the group's deadly aims. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described King's character Anne Waverley as "a complicated and enigmatic heroine who perfectly fits the task of illuminating … religious cults." In the New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio likewise praised Waverley as "just the kind of person to rescue the psychological suspense genre from its surfeit of perfect heroines." In Folly, Rae Newborn seeks a cure for her depression by working on a dilapidated and isolated house willed to her by an uncle she never knew. One Publishers Weekly reviewer stated that in Folly, King "skillfully portrays psychological illness." Still, this novel seems to have met with less than usual enthusiasm from King's readers. Another Publishers Weekly reviewer noted: "Beautiful prose and intriguing characters can't quite save the confusing, and at times needlessly complicated plot of this challenging psychological thriller"; the reviewer goes on to cite the overwhelming "complexity of detail" and the "hokey" denouement as further evidence of the book's weaknesses. Whitney Scott of Booklist described what she called King's "formulaic interludes" in her review: Rae "takes her tenuously healed body and raw wound of a mind to a deserted island…. Rae performs the obligatory scene of casting her antidepressants and tranquilizers into the sea, followed by the equally requisite discovery of—gasp!—a Friday-esque footprint." Although in reviewers' minds King may have missed the mark with this novel, she is certain to have taken note of their responses. In her interview with Mia Stampe for the Kriminal Litteraere Nyheder Web site, King revealed her outlook: "A good reviewer … can point out things that the lowly writer had not realized: that parts of the plot the writer thought so very clever are actually terribly clichéd, that plots creak if not well oiled…. I pay attention to reviews, and bleed when they are bad. But I learn."

Another stand-alone novel, Keeping Watch, follows the story of Allen Carmichael, a Vietnam veteran who uses his training to abduct unsuspecting children and women from abusive situations and taking them to safety. His work is his redemption from a post-military life that had been rife with failure; flashbacks from Carmichael's past appear throughout the novel. Carmichael is near retirement when he takes on one last case—to save a young boy from his cruel father. He succeeds, but the danger inherent in the clues he uncovers along the way so unnerve the investigator that he postpones his retirement. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote: "This novel of harrowing suspense and wrenching resolution should earn King plenty of accolates." A Kirkus Reviews contributor paid special attention to the Vietnam element, observing that "King's shrewd use of it as the seminal period in the hero's life gives a devastating and surprising spin to a familiar genre."

King once commented in Authors and Artists for Young Adults: "Any good novel tells the truth in some way.

It's the responsibility of an author to entertain, but it's also the job of any good novel to allow us all to learn something about what it means to be a thinking human being, to see how we work and function in the world…. I am never happier than when someone writes to say they have re-read my books. This indicates that there is a depth to them that you don't get with just one reading."



Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 29, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Heising, Wiletta L., Detecting Women 2, Purple Moon Press (Dearborn, MI), 1996-97.

St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Armchair Detective, fall, 1996, p. 402.

Booklist, February 1, 1993, Marie Kuda, review of A Grave Talent, p. 972, and Mary Romano Marks, review of A Grave Talent, p. 975; February 1, 1994, Emily Melton, review of The Beekeeper's Apprentice; or, On the Segregation of the Queen, p. 997; February 15, 1995, Emily Melton, review of To Play the Fool, p. 1062; September 1, 1995, p. 45; February 1, 1996, Emily Melton, review of With Child, p. 919; November 1, 1996, p. 522; January 1, 1998, Emily Melton, review of The Moor, p. 784; April 15, 1998, review of The Moor, p. 1360; January 1, 1999, Emily Melton, review of A Darker Place, p. 837; April 15, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of O Jerusalem, p. 1480; December 1, 1999, Emily Melton, review of Night Work, p. 687; May 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, p. 1609; February 15, 2001, Whitney Scott, review of Folly, p. 1116; February 1, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Justice Hall, p. 907; May 1, 2006, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Art of Detection, p. 35.

Drood Review of Mystery, January, 2001, review of Folly, p. 20.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 13, 1999, review of A Darker Place, p. D13; June 12, 1999, review of O Jerusalem, p. D19.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1993, review of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, p. 1491; August 1, 1995, p. 1063; December 15, 1995, p. 1735; January 1, 1999, review of A Darker Place, p. 10; April 1, 1999, review of O Jerusalem, p. 489; December 15, 1999, review of Night Work, p. 1920; December 1, 2002, review of Keeping Watch, p. 1721; December 15, 2003, review of The Game, p. 1428; May 1, 2005, review of Locked Rooms, p. 513.

Kliatt, September, 1996, p. 11; March, 1998, review of A Letter of Mary, p. 12; January, 1999, review of The Moor (audiobook), p. 46; March, 1999, review of The Moor, p. 12; July, 1999, review of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, p. 2; November, 2006, Carol Reich, review of The Art of Detection (audiobook), p. 48.

Lambda Book Report, March, 2000, Lynne Maxwell, "Serial Detectives at Work," p. 26; fall, 2006, Judith A. Markowitz, review of The Art of Detection, p. 11.

Library Journal, January, 1993, Rex E. Klett, review of A Grave Talent, p. 169; September 1, 1995, p. 212; October 1, 1998, review of The Moor (audiobook), p. 150; January, 1999, Nancy McNicol, review of A Darker Place, p. 152; May 1, 1999, Laurel Bliss, review of O Jerusalem, p. 117; January, 2000, Nancy McNicol, review of Night Work, p. 160; July, 2000, Patsy E. Gray, review of O Jerusalem, p. 162; May 1, 2005, Laurel M. Bliss, review of Locked Rooms, p. 67; May 1, 2006, Jo Ann Vicarel, "Mystery," review of The Art of Detection, p. 67; December 1, 2006, I. Pour-El, review of The Art of Detection (audiobook), p. 180.

New York Times Book Review, February 19, 1995, p. 25; September 17, 1995, Marilyn Stasio, review of A Monstrous Regiment for Women, p. 41; February 18, 1996, p. 20; January 5, 1997, Marilyn Stasio, review of A Letter of Mary, p. 20; January 11, 1998, review of The Moor, p. 19; May 31, 1998, review of The Moor, p. 30; March 7, 1999, Marilyn Stasio, review of A Darker Place, p. 20; February 20, 2000, Marilyn Stasio, review of Night Work.

People, March 19, 2001, review of Folly, p. 48.

Publishers Weekly, January 3, 1994, review of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, p. 73; December 12, 1994, review of To Play the Fool, p. 52; July 10, 1995, review of A Monstrous Regiment for Women, p. 46; December 4, 1995, p. 55; October 21, 1996, p. 48; November 18, 1996, p. 64; December 21, 1998, review of A Darker Place, p. 54; May 3, 1999, review of O Jerusalem, p. 69; January 17, 2000, review of Night Work, p. 46; January 15, 2001, review of Folly, p. 55; February 18, 2002, Robert C. Hahn, "PW Talks with …," and review of Justice Hall, pp. 78-79; February 3, 2003, review of Keeping Watch, p. 57; April 24, 2006, review of The Art of Detection, p. 36; October 2, 2006, review of The Art of Detection (audiobook), p. 58.

School Library Journal, July, 1994, Susan H. Woodcock, review of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, pp. 128-129; June, 1997, Susan H. Woodcock, review of A Letter of Mary, p. 151; April, 1998, review of The Moor, p. 158; December, 1998, review of The Moor, p. 29; July, 1999, review of A Darker Place, p. 115; June, 2004, Susan H. Woodcock, review of The Game, p. 178; August, 2005, Susan H. Woodcock, review of Locked Rooms, p. 151; November, 2006, Charli Osborne, review of The Art of Detection, p. 171.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), September 3, 1995, Dick Adler, review of A Monstrous Regiment of Women, p. 4; January 7, 1996, Dick Adler, review of With Child, p. 6; January 5, 1997, p. 4.

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1998, reviews of A Grave Talent and The Beekeeper's Apprentice, p. 41; October, 1998, John Charles, review of The Moor, p. 274; December, 1998, review of The Moor, p. 333.

Washington Post Book World, February 20, 1994, Pat Dowell, "Sherlock Rusticates," p. 8; February 19, 1995, p. 6; October 15, 1995, p. 6; December 15, 1996, Maureen Corrigan, review of A Letter of Mary, p. 10; July 18, 1999, review of O Jerusalem, p. 5.

Wilson Library Bulletin, February, 1995, Gail Pool, "Murder in Print," p. 72.


Agony Column Web site, (June 19, 2005), Rick Kleffel, review of Locked Rooms; (June 23, 2006), Rick Kleffel, review of The Art of Detection., (March 5, 2005), Andi Shechter and Wiley Saichek, interview with Laurie R. King; (June 24, 2005), Carol Fitzgerald and Shannon McKenna, interview with Laurie R. King; (February 1, 2007), Shannon McKenna, review of Locked Rooms, and Kate Ayers, reviews of The Game and The Art of Detection.

Kriminal Litteraere Nyheder, (March 6, 2001), Mia Stampe, "Interview with Laurie R. King."

Laurie R. King Home Page, (February 1, 2007)., (March 26, 2002), review of The Beekeeper's Apprentice.

About this article

King, Laurie R. 1952- (Leigh Richards)

Updated About content Print Article